Israel has slammed the Gaza Strip with airstrikes, in a dramatic escalation that included bombing the home of a senior Hamas leader, killing a family of 10 in a refugee camp – most of them children.
The attack also pulverised a high-rise that housed The Associated Press and other media.
The Hamas militant group continued a stream of rocket volleys into Israel, including a late-night barrage on Tel Aviv. One man was killed on Saturday when a rocket hit his home in a suburb of the seaside metropolis.
With a US envoy on the ground, calls increased for a ceasefire after five days of mayhem that have left at least 145 Palestinians dead in Gaza – including 41 children and 23 women – and eight dead on the Israeli side, all but one of them civilians, including a five-year-old.
US President Joe Biden, who has called for a de-escalation but has backed Israel’s campaign, spoke separately by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Still, Israel stepped up its assault, vowing to shatter the capabilities of Gaza’s Hamas rulers. The week of deadly violence, set off by a Hamas rocket on Monday, came after weeks of mounting tensions and heavy-handed Israeli measures in contested Jerusalem.
Early on Sunday, Israeli warplanes struck several buildings and roads in a vital part of Gaza City. Photos circulated by residents and journalists showed the airstrikes created a crater that blocked one of the main roads leading to Shifa, the largest hospital in the strip.
Hamas leader’s family hit
The Health Ministry said the latest airstrikes left at least two dead and 25 wounded, including children and women. There has been no immediate comment from the Israeli military.
On Saturday, Israel bombed the home of Khalil al-Hayeh, a senior figure in Hamas’ political branch, saying the building served as part of the group’s “terrorist infrastructure.” There was no immediate report on al-Hayeh’s fate or on any casualties.
The bombing of al-Hayeh’s home showed Israel was expanding its campaign beyond just the group’s military commanders. Israel says it has killed dozens in Hamas’ military branch, though Hamas and the smaller group Islamic Jihad have only acknowledged 20 dead members.
Since the conflict began, Israel has levelled a number of Gaza City’s tallest office and residential buildings, alleging they house elements of the Hamas military infrastructure.
On Saturday, it turned to the 12-storey al-Jalaa Building, where the offices of the AP, the TV network Al-Jazeera and other media outlets are located, along with several floors of apartments.
In the afternoon, the military called the building’s owner and warned a strike would come within an hour. AP staffers and other occupants evacuated safely.
A rain of missiles
Soon after, three missiles hit the building and destroyed it, bringing it crashing down in a giant cloud of dust.
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In his call with Netanyahu, Biden expressed his “strong support” for Israel’s campaign but raised concern about civilian casualties and protection of journalists, the White House said.
The tensions began in east Jerusalem earlier this month, when Palestinians protested attempts by settlers to forcibly evict a number of Palestinian families from their homes and Israeli police measures at Al-Aqsa Mosque, a frequent flashpoint located on a mount in the Old City revered by Muslims and Jews.
Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem late on Monday, triggering the Israeli assault on Gaza. Since then, Hamas has fired more than 2000 rockets, though most have either fallen short or been intercepted by anti-missile defences.
Israel’s warplanes and artillery have struck hundreds of targets around blockaded Gaza, where some two million Palestinians live.
The turmoil has also spilled over elsewhere, fuelling protests in the occupied West Bank and stoking violence within Israel between its Jewish and Arab citizens, with clashes and vigilante attacks on people and property.
Palestinians on Saturday marked the Day of al-Nakba, or “the Catastrophe,” commemorating the estimated 700,000 people who were expelled from or fled their homes in what was now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation.
Thousands of Arab Israelis marched in a Nakba rally in the northern Israeli city of Sukhnin, and scattered protests took place in the West Bank.
Palestinian health officials reported the deaths of two Palestinians by Israeli fire in the West Bank on Saturday. One of the shootings occurred when the army said it thwarted an alleged car ramming.